PIERRE JORIS: Cinéma de la Paix

Remembrance Day 1958On Sunday mornings, in the church across the street from my grandmother’s confiserie cum movie theater, during the eleven o’clock high mass, we were told by the priest — I believe his name was Här Meyer — at just the moment when I had started to think this through on my own, how we had gotten here (to Ettelbruck?) in the first place. At The Beginning, he informed us, we had been in Paradise & that we, well, actually a woman, of course, of course, a woman had screwed that up and so now we had to live or rather labor by the sweat of our brows etc., that is, survive this early loss in some kind of nasty limbo called our base world and pay our dues through the nose. It was further decreed that after we had shuffled off this mortal coil, if we had suffered enough and had been righteous enough, and after being tried and given admittance by a saint after whom I was named, well, then we may gain access to a revamped version of paradise now re-named heaven.

Why was paradise taken away from our beginning and transferred to our end? At the beginning it was real, but put at the end, it certainly looked like blackmail, if you thought about it hard enough. Why should paradise/heaven have to be a carrot dangling from a stick in front of us that we may possibly nibble on after the bitter end? It did not make sense. How could it be paradise, I wondered — as the dräi Hären picked up their ritual again & I, also an altar boy in those days, but not for much longer, carried their big book from one side of the altar to the other (or am I confused & I carried only the wine and the water?) — how could that be paradise when it will be the invisible, shivering soul all alone waiting for who knows how many eternities until the end of time when the body will finally be put back together with some divine UHU Alleskleber and reunited with that ethereal bit that’s been waiting forlorn and all alone in some kind of Johnny-Come-Lately paradise?

Why can’t paradise remain, be, at the beginning, as we open our eyes to the world — and see the world for the first time? We’d see that this is paradise, this here and now, our childhood, not so much as a fixed place, but as the process of marveling at the world unfolding. Paradise as the ongoing discovery and unveiling of a world always stretching further out and beyond what we’ve been limited to. From the mother’s body into the first room and then suddenly old enough to leave the room and walk into the garden behind the house — paradise, remember, from Persian, etymologically means garden. And then it becomes the friend’s house beyond the parental house we now know too well and are chafing at the bit to get out of if only for one night — and later it’s the city beyond the town we grew up in, the country beyond the one we are told we belong to. It is that movement, as the new comes at us, as it unveils itself to us on the horizon, as we draw closer, unrolling the always self- revealing, extending horizon-world: that is paradise, the place where you discover what you are not or not yet, the diastole place, where you take in the new through all your pores.

In my childhood, that paradisiacal incarnation was for some time called the “Cinéma de la Paix,” the old movie “palace” separated from the church by the square (where my father, as a child, claimed to shoot lions in his games), the street, d’Grosgass, and part of the building that also contained the confiserie Joris-Wantz, “d’Maison Joris.” a paradise it became especially the more Här Meyer and his ilk screamed from the pulpit, calling it a den of temptation, making it into that other place, a hell of iniquity. Their hell, my paradise. The building itself was demolished I know not when, a bank replaced it, thus appeasing the generations-old conflict between the great new art of the 20C, cinema, and the old values of the bishopric, catholic conservatism. The bank is of course the perfect counterpart, the most accurate reflection of the Vatican’s overbearing values. Peace has come to the square. All that remains (at least accessible from here, New York) is an extract from the Journal Officiel that goes: “N° 2341. — Maison Joris, Cinéma de la Paix, Ettelbruck. Confiserie, patisserie, fabrique de biscuits, salon de consommation, cinéma — crée? en 1864, repris en 1903. — Propriétaire : Joris, Joseph, Ettelbruck….”

Well, the movie house must have been added later as the very first theater in the world exclusively devoted to showing motion pictures was the Nickelodeon, which opened on June 19, 1905 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It seems more likely the cinéma was added to the confiserie complex sometime after the Great War — thus its name, a request for or a celebration of peace? —probably in the mid-twenties if the family yarn is to be believed according to which grand-pa Joseph was befriended with Abel Gance who supposedly brought his films per bicycle, and the two watched them — with no audience bothering to come. Be that as it may, the Rundstedt offensive caused the shelling by American troops of Ettelbruck and confiserie & movie house went up in flames, to be rebuilt after the war, though even with the lights on inside it remained a sort of grey cement box. By the time I was allowed into paradise, it was known around town as the Fléikëscht, the fleebox (as a newer, more modern and larger movie palace had opened called the ABC near the railway station — as if you needed to know the ABC to go to the movies! silly name, I thought even back then).

But what a treat for a kid! At eight I stayed for some 3 months with my grand-mother in that very building before my parents moved up to Ettelbruck & so I got used to free patisseries downstairs before going upstairs to catch a free movie. Paradise indeed. When the cops came to make sure no under 16 was in the house, I would sneak into the projection booth and watch from there through one of the small slots, waiting for the policeman to leave. I remember a vast mixture of movies, half in black & white, half in color, many American, but also German and French, with some Italian flicks thrown in. Given the BENELUX, most were subtitled in Dutch and French, a confusing mess at the bottom of the screen — & so it was a treat to listen to the American flicks, mainly oaters & war & gangster flicks, in their laconic scripts, and picking up much of the American vernacular along the way.

And the weirdness of the double-headers: thinking back I put together a classic double feature from around 1956 or 1957, a German movie, such as Bis wir uns wiedersehn, the 1952 O.W. Fischer / Maria Schell Heimat-drama-weepie, followed by the 1956 John Ford Western The Searchers. Us young boys would suffer, snicker, giggle through the German weepie, even sneak out to get some sweets if so bored one couldn’t wait for the eskimo glace? lady during the break. I could sneak to the patisserie to cadge another moerekap, a “moor’s head,” as my favorite pastry was, oh so racistically, called. And yet, despite these heroic shows of bored superiority when faced with tragic love drama and its sexual innuendos, images did lodge deep in the mind, & some remain there more than fifty plus years later. Thus I remember the closing shot with Maria Schell standing at an upstairs window looking out, the camera behind her, revealing what she sees as she smiles through tears: a man on a stretcher being pushed into the back of an ambulance and driven off. And in some strange way, this image resounded across that sunday afternoon, in rhyme and contrast with several images from The Searchers, where the camera from inside the ranch house frames the dark doorway while the bright outside of the Western Plain reveals the hero, John Wayne of course, forbidden or forbidding himself entry, and turning to ride off into the sunset as behoves the lonesome cowboy.

Is it any surprise that we grew up dreaming of an American paradise, open space to roam in without family attachments, with adventures lurking around every butte, a full-color paradise beckoning? As against the drab black-and-white of whatever European grey town that street had been on, where the hero, shot in a previous scene, only leaves the house “feet forward,” as they’d say in the western, dead on a stretcher to be shunted into an ambulance, from one claustrophobic space to another, leaving behind a sobbing/laughing woman who believes that the killing was a trick, a fake, a way to smuggle her lover into safety. Later, many years later, I thought of calling a collection of poems “The European Book of the Dead,” but didn’t, finally, though I’m still not sure why.
But when the Paradise of the Cinéma de la Paix had worn off as I grew older, and knowing by then that the one proposed by Här Meyer, was but the great confidence trick I had begun to smell out even as I helped at the altar, I lit out for the territory, moved across continents, to America, indeed — and write this now from here, New York City, another true paradise, yes it is, yes it is, with all the dreck that belongs to it — & the only one I have ever wanted, and gained access to. The End. A Universal Picture.


Pierre Joris is a poet, translator, essayist & anthologist who has published more than 50 books, most recently, Meditations on the Stations of Mansur al-Hallaj (poems) from Chax Press and The University of California Book of North African Literature (volume 4 in the Poems for the Millennium series), coedited with Habib Tengour. Exile is My Trade: A Habib Tengour Reader edited & translated by Joris, and Pierre Joris:  Cartographies of the In-between, essays on Joris’ work edited by Peter Cockelbergh, came out in 2012. Forthcoming are Barzakh — Poems 2000-2012 (Black Widow Press) & Breathturn Into Timestead:The Collected Later Poems of Paul Celan (FSG).

Nomadics blog: http://pierrejoris.com/blog/



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